What Matters Most

Today is my birthday. Happy 44th to me.

Sort of.

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Photo Credit: http://www.specialevents.com

You see, today also marks two years since my father passed away …  rather unexpectedly.  On that Wednesday morning, I had only been awake for about 20 minutes or so when the phone rang, my brother calling to tell me that my dad had died. He just didn’t wake up that morning.

I don’t want it to matter that my father died on my birthday.

Honestly, I don’t.

Even on the dreadful day he died, I didn’t want it to matter that he passed away on my birthday. After all, my father would have never wanted me to experience any sort of emotional pain over him being called to his eternal home. Getting to meet Jesus face-to-face is a good thing … right?

But even good things hurt sometimes.

My dad used to tell me that after the first week of basketball practice back when I was in junior high.

He was right. A lot of good things hurt … having a baby, getting shots when you are sick, sore muscles after working out, going through physical therapy to recover from an injury, and so on and so forth.

Saying goodbye can be painful too. Especially if it is someone you love. Even if that person gets to go somewhere great. It still hurts the heart.

This gets me right back to where I started: Not wanting it to matter that my dad died on my birthday.

Only right now …  today … on this birthday … it still matters.

Jon and I talked a lot this past week about how I feel regarding my birthday. After the second or third such conversation, Jon said, in his matter-of-fact way, “Paige, it is clear to me that you just aren’t done grieving yet. That’s okay. Grief takes time, especially if you love someone. I suggest you should be as gracious to yourself as you would to someone else in your situation.”

Be gracious to myself.

In my grief.

With my hurting heart.

On this birthday when it still matters so very much.

I pondered that Jon’s suggestion and wondered what that would look like.

Last night, Jon and I were  talking about my birthday, making details and plans for the day. I have carefully orchestrated my day to ensure I won’t have much time to sit around and dwell on missing my father. Who wants to play the pity party game on their birthday?! Not me!

So we have planned a day trip to visit with my mom and sister in a nearby city. We’ll grab some lunch at a Mexican restaurant (because I am craving guacamole) and then do some shopping (mostly the window variety). I’ve got a little birthday cash, so I am thinking of looking for a new purse … or I might save it so that I can buy the pendant and earrings to match the opal ring Jon bought me for my birthday this year.

I think it’s going to be a good day.

Yet, like I told Jon, I am still struggling inside. I have hard questions that my human heart can’t answer.

Why did my dad have to die so relatively young?

Why didn’t God allow him to see his grandchildren graduate high school, get married and have children?

Why did God let him die on my birthday?

And then I confessed this other thought that has persisted in the back of my mind all week long:

What if something else terrible happens on my birthday?

Allow me a moment to push pause right here and said that I married a great guy. One of the many things I love about Jon is that he doesn’t get upset when I share my thoughts. He just listens and lets me talk through all the emotion. That’s exactly what he did last night.

But when I asked that last question out loud, Jon said, “Sure. You can ask that question, but it is an awful way to think. And it will certainly  make you miserable.”

He was quiet for a moment, allowing the heaviness of what he said and the weight of my own emotions to sink in deep.

“Paige, let’s remember what the Bible says about our thinking and how important it is to our own well-being.

What does God want us to think about? Well, He tells us. He said whatever is pure, honorable , just, pure, lovely, commendable, or excellent, we should think on these things.

And why is our thinking so important? Because it is through our thinking that we have our minds renewed. And the renewing of our minds enables us to more fully experience God, to know His will, to see more of His heart.

So, if you change your thinking and quit asking questions that you will never find the answers to, eventually there will be a renewing of your mind and it won’t matter so much anymore. Maybe not this birthday. Perhaps not even the next birthday or two. But trust me, one year it won’t matter nearly as much. Instead, you’ll be able to think about the things that really did matter regarding your father.”

Think on these things.

Experience the renewing of my mind.

Ask what really matters most.

Jon didn’t realize it last night (or maybe he did), but he gave me a place to start, a way to climb out of the hole of self-pity, a little bit of hope that maybe not all my future birthdays will feel so hard.

This is a gift that is better than any opal ring.

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So what is it that mattered most about my dad?

Well, he honored and cherished my mother. He adored his children and grandchildren. My dad placed high importance on maintaining good relationships with people. He had a strong work ethic. My father loved to laugh. He enjoyed life and lived right up until the day he died. My dad was my friend as much as he was my father.

All of these things mattered far more than the day he died.

Yet there is one more thing that mattered most of all:

My father loved and knew Jesus Christ.

In the end, this is why I know I can grieve with hope. Because my dad had a relationship with God, the day of his death on earth was also his birthday into heaven. I know that for him, the end was really just the beginning.

So does it really matter that my dad died on my birthday?

Well, sure it matters … but it’s definitely not what matters most.

And today, I am especially grateful for that.

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If you like, you can watch this YouTube video I made of some memories of my father.

The music is the Theme from Rudy (The O’Neill Brothers). My dad was a sucker for sentimental movies, and Rudy was one of his favorites.

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My Father’s Voice

Father’s Day is Sunday.

It’s my second without having my dad to celebrate. I miss him terribly, but feel so blessed to have had him as my father. Perhaps I am biased, but there wasn’t a better Daddy in the world.

So in his honor (and in honor of good dads everywhere), I’m sharing one of my favorite stories about my father.

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Me and my wonderful Daddy, Easter Sunday 1973

Throughout my childhood, my family kept a tiny flock of sheep in the backyard, as part of a 4-H project.  It was not uncommon for the sheep to find a way of escape from the small pen in our backyard.  It seemed we only become aware of their fugitive state whenever some neighbor telephoned to let us know our wooly pets were out wandering along the roadsides.

Whenever our lambs went for one of their strolls, my father always insisted we immediately  go track down those sheep, and return them as soon as possible to the safety of the pen in our backyard. It didn’t matter if it was day or night. As luck would have it, our  lambs were infamous for taking moonlit walks, the deeper into the night the better … or so it seemed.

I could tell many tales about these sheep-chasing escapades, but one time in particular always stands out in my memory.  It happened on a humid night the fall I turned sixteen.

The ringing of our phone roused me slightly from my deep sleep.  It was soon followed by my dad’s hard knock on the door of the bedroom I shared with my sister.   “Paige,” he said, “get up! The sheep are out along the highway, somewhere toward the high school. Your brother and I are heading out now.  You follow along just as soon as you get dressed. Meet us on the other side of the bridge.”

I heard the front door shut as they walked out of the house, and then their voices carrying softly as they walked across the front yard, headed toward the highway that stretched out in front of our brick home.  A wave of jealousy swept over me as I looked over at my younger sister, snugly tucked into dreams instead of being forced to go on a midnight  goose (er … sheep) hunt for a bunch of wayward lambs.

Five or six minutes later I was dressed and walking out of the house.  The night sky was dark.  No moon or stars lit the ground. The street light shone dimly on the other side of the highway, providing me with just enough light to dodge a puddle of water at the edge of our driveway.

Walking down the center of the highway, I suddenly felt very alone in the deep darkness. At shortly after 2 am, the roads in our rural town were quiet.  The only sounds I could hear were the sounds of tree frogs, crickets and the occasional hooting of an owl. I walked along, the fear in my throat growing thicker and sharper with each step that took me away from the safety of my home.  I quickened my pace, taking hurried steps as my shoes pounding against the dark pavement in my efforts to reach my father as soon as possible.

Soon I approached the bridge.  It was darker there. The trees overhung across the road, creating deep shadows.  The intense darkness blocked out even the reflective yellow stripes dividing the two-lane road. I hesitated before stepping onto the bridge. In order to reach the safety of my father I had to cross the bridge to get to the other side. But there was a loud voice in my head that screamed for me to turn around and high-tail it back home instead of crossing over that deep, dark bridge.

Breathing a prayer, I put my foot forward and started across.  Toward the midpoint of the bridge, I heard a noise, a sort of rustling that didn’t sound like the leaves on the trees. I paused, but didn’t hear anything other than the pounding of my own heart.  I started walking again, but after another step I stopped. I had the distinct feeling I wasn’t alone on the bridge.  Unable to see or hear anything, I shook off my fear and picked up my foot, determined to get to the other side.

At that exact moment,  a voice boomed out of the darkness:

“Paige!  Go back and get the truck!”

Immediately, I turned on my heels and began to run, faster than I had ever run in my entire life.  (Honestly, this wasn’t a huge feat. I was never a fast runner to begin with, and so it wouldn’t have taken much more than a steady jog to beat my all-time fastest run. Still, I rather like to recall this run as if I made it back home in record time.)

I ran straight for my dad’s truck, the beat-up old Ford that he drove back and forth to his job at our family hardware store.  Yanking open the door, I dove behind the steering wheel, slamming myself inside the truck. I took several deep, long breaths. My heart thumped wildly in my chest, though I wasn’t sure if it was due to the running, the fear coursing through my body or the realization that I had just heard the voice of God in the night.

The keys were in the truck’s ignition, just where I expected them to be, for in rural Louisiana during the mid-80’s, most people never bothered to take their car keys into the house. I turned the key and the truck rumbled to life. Three minutes later, I pulled over to the side of the road.  Ahead was my father and brother, herding our small flock of sheep toward me.  I quickly hopped out, leaving the headlights on and the engine idling.

As my father approached, he said, “Thanks for bringing the truck! You got here just at the right time.”

I nodded.  “No problem, Dad. I’m just glad God told me to do it … and that I obeyed even though I was really scared.”

My father looked up from his task of calmly guiding the bleating lambs to give me a brief confused look … And then he started to laugh, deep and hard until it seemed as if he might never stop.  He finally caught his breath.  “Paige,” he said between chuckles, “that was me.  I told you to go back for the truck.  Didn’t you recognize my voice?!”

“That was you?  You were on the bridge with me?” It was my turn to be confused.

Obviously still tickled over my confusion, my dad gave me a hug and said, “Yes, Paige.  I hate to disappoint you, but voice you heard was mine …  not the voice of God. But I’m glad you brought the truck anyway. Now, help us load these sheep.”

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Me (in pink) showing my 4-H sheep at the Louisiana State Fair, October 1982

It’s been nearly 27 years since that deep, dark night when I thought I heard God in the sound of my father’s voice.  Yet each time I recall that bridge and the voice that boomed from the darkness, I reminded of two ways that my earthly father taught me important truths about my Heavenly Father.

Almost any Christian will tell you that hearing and recognizing the voice of God can be difficult. Many Christians go through life without ever really learning how to listen for God’s voice.  I was fortunate.  My dad taught me to listen for God’s voice by placing a great importance on studying the scriptures, daily prayer, attending weekly worship services, and by expecting me to learn and obey the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus once said, “My sheep hear my voice … and they follow me.” (John 10:27)  I am grateful for my daddy who taught me how to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.

The second truth is a reminder that in this life we will have troubles.  Jesus Himself said, “You will have suffering in this world.”  (John 16:33).  But He also said, “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20)  Just like my dad was with me on that dark bridge so many nights ago, my Heavenly Father is also with me whatever my circumstances.

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Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.  ~Psalm 103:13

Framed Photographs

Yesterday, I went shopping in a department store. I only planned to quickly run in to pick up a gift for a young lady I know who is getting married this fall. Literally, within five minutes of walking into the store, I had the gift in my hands. I immediately headed back to the front of the store to pay and leave.

However, as I made my way to the register to check out, I passed by a large group of picture frames. Almost instantly, one of them caught my eye.

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I did a double take, blinked hard and stared. I might have even rubbed my eyes, trying to ensure I wasn’t seeing things. Reaching up to the top shelf, I gingerly picked up a frame, one that was obviously intended for Father’s Day gifting.

At the top of the frame were the words “Me & Papa.”  My father’s grandchildren all called him “Poppa” … we spelled it differently but pronounced it the same way. Still, it wasn’t the wording that had caught my attention. It was the sample photo that was displayed in the frame itself, a picture of a young boy and his grandfather.

The man in the photo looked remarkably like my own Dad.

In fact, it looked so much like him that it took me a minute to realize it wasn’t actually my father.  For several long minutes, I stood there debating with myself about whether or not I should include the frame with my purchases.

Seven dollars wasn’t that much money, yet I didn’t really have a picture I knew would be the perfect fit for the frame.  The wording wasn’t quite right with Poppa not being spelled the way our family always spelled it. I continued arguing with the more frugal side of myself, pointing out that though the man in the frame looked like my father, he wasn’t really my dad.

However, eventually emotions and sentimentality overruled frugality. I bought the frame. It’s sitting on my kitchen counter, still in the box with the price tag attached.

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I’ve never been a person to keep lots of framed photos around the house. 

There’s one of Jon and me at the top of Pike’s Peak sitting on the shelf above my kitchen sink.

I have framed photo of my parents, an old black and white photo from when they were in college and dating. That one sits on the top of my piano, along with a couple of photos of my parents when they were children.

And then there is the framed photo I pull out each Christmas, a snapshot of my dad holding me on my first Christmas. I’m barely 3 months old, and I’ve got a Santa hat on my head. I love that particular picture, and for years have always kept it displayed between Thanksgiving and New Year’s … although this past year I kept the photo out straight through Valentine’s Day. Somehow I couldn’t bear to pack it away again.

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Since Daddy died, photos of him mean a lot more to me. 

I don’t suppose that’s a unique feeling, as I imagine many people would say that photos become more cherished after a loved one passes. I’m grateful that I live in a day and age where we have photos to remind us of loved ones or special moments.

In a sense, photographs are like connectors bringing the past forward into the present, capable of evoking a flood of emotions. At least that’s the way it’s been for me these past nine months.

In fact, immediately following my father’s death, my emotions became extremely charged over photos … or rather, the lack of photos.

When my Daddy died suddenly last September, I hastily packed to go be with my family. In just over four hours, I managed to get our two dogs ready to be boarded, found respite care for two foster babies, as well as got them packed and delivered to the respite provider, supervised the packing of my five teens and tweens, and still managed to pack suitcases for me and my husband.

I never thought to bring along my box of childhood photos. Looking back, perhaps I should have though. It might have saved me some emotional pain.

The next day at my father’s visitation, a photo slideshow was running continuously in the background. It was played again prior to the beginning of the funeral. Initially, as I watched the slideshow, I appreciated the sentimentality of the photos. But soon, I noticed something was amiss.

There was not a single photo of me with my father.

I couldn’t understand why I was missing from the slide show. The day before, someone had asked me if I had any photos of Dad with me or the kids on among my Facebook photos or saved on my cell phone. I found a couple of the kids with their grandfather, but none with me. I didn’t think much of it at the time. After all, I had no reason to suspect that  no one else in the family would not have a single photo of me with my father?

I tried not to let it get to me, yet the longer I watched, the more upset I became. It seemed like everyone else in the world was represented in the slide show, except for me. I was nowhere to be seen.

There were photos of my father as a child, with both of his parents, and with all of his siblings. There were pictures of him doing a variety of activities from showing his 4-H lambs to posing with his basketball team to teaching school and coaching my brother’s baseball team. Naturally, there were many photographs of Daddy with my mother, from their dating days to their wedding day to a vacation they took to Hawaii before any of us children were born. The most recent photo was a picture of my parents taken just a week before his death. Both of my siblings were represented in the slide show, as were all of ten of the grandkids. There were photos of my dad with his nieces and nephews, several of his cousins, quite a few with church friends and even some of the students who had gone to the high school where he had been principal for many years.

But not a single photo of me with Daddy.

At the time, even though I felt forgotten, I knew the oversight wasn’t intentional. No one meant for me to be left out. But knowing that fact didn’t really take away the sting of being overlooked. Even now as I type this blog post, the memory of it causes tears to well up in the corners of my eyes and a lump to form in my throat.

There are plenty of photos of me and my father together. These days I often pull them out and sift through them, looking at them to recall my Dad’s smile or eyes. The photos remind me of stories, events that took place long ago that I thought I’d all but forgotten until a picture reminds me and suddenly I am transported back in time.

But I think perhaps there is more to my longing for photos than just wanting to see his face or remember the times we shared together. I think I want to recapture for myself what wasn’t honored at my father’s funeral. I want to remind myself that I was loved by my father, that I mattered to him, that I am not forgotten.

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I had a wonderful Daddy here on earth. He loved me, taught me, supported me, and encouraged me for 42 wonderful years. Even though he wasn’t perfect, I couldn’t have asked for a better father.

But how much more wonderful is my Heavenly Father? How much more amazing is His love for me?

Christian author and pastor Max Lucado once wrote:

If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it.

Whenever I am reminded of that quote,  I can’t help but smile. It’s something I definitely relate to as my own fridge is covered in photos and drawings made over the years by children I love. The faces held there by magnets are important to me, and whenever I pass by my refrigerator and see the smiles of the people I love, I am reminded to pray for them.

You know, even though the sentiment about my photo being on God’s fridge is really sweet, it’s not exactly a truth I can hang my heart on when I’m feeling overlooked, forgotten or unseen.  However, the Bible actually says something even better than God having my photo on his refrigerator.

 In Isaiah 49:16, you can find these words:

Look, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.

God has me pictured on his hands! Not just my name … but my likeness. Doesn’t the thought of that just blow your mind? Think about it. I might not be on a heavenly refrigerator, but my very face is permanently inscribed on the hands of God. He always remembers me because my face is ever before Him.

No photo in a frame or snapshot posted by magnet to the fridge or picture presented in a slide show of memories can begin to compare to that.

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About that frame I bought yesterday … 

I have been wondering if I should return it and get my money back. After all, what use to me is this frame?  The image of the man in the frame isn’t my dad, and his name is spelled wrong. Certainly I could find a better way to display a photo of me with my father.

But somehow, I think I’m going to keep this frame … as a reminder of my father’s love and that I am not forgotten.  Because God always remembers me.

My image in permanently imprinted on His Holy Hands.

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Father’s Day … without a Dad

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This past week, I made a trip up to my mother’s home. From the highway, before the I turned onto the driveway and pulled up the hillside, I saw my father’s white truck. It was parked up past the house, near the gate that leads into the pasture. He often parked his white Ford F150 there.

Before I know what was happening, I felt my heart skipped a beat, as a half-formed thought bounced around in my head.

Oh, good! Dad’s here …

And then, like a deflating balloon, I remembered. Dad’s not here. My father is gone. I won’t see him on this side of heaven again.

I suppose the tears have been building all month. June is the month for celebrating fathers. This year, I don’t have a dad to celebrate. I’m thankful we aren’t a TV watching family. I didn’t need any sentimental commercials to add to the emotions I’m already feeling.

The past few days I’ve had these traces of conversations in my head, as I imagined the two of us chatting in the living room of his home. There is so much to tell him, it would take several cups of coffee to catch him up on all that has happened in the past nine months!

Let’s see … I’d have to share about how Joel had major surgery and shocked us all with his miraculously quick recovery. Of course, there’s all the adventures of life with our foster kids (who we only had for five days when Dad passed away). I would also have to share the saga of the renter leaving my house in such a terrible state, and then how we managed to fix it all up. Of course, Dad would never believe how much Nathan has grown in a short period of time … going from a 140 lb, 5’4″ to 185 lbs, 5’8″.  The amount of clothes I’ve had to buy for him is ridiculous.

I’d talk to him about how parenting teens is harder than I ever imagined and apologize for every time I ever rolled my eyes at him. He would agree that teens are hard people to love, and that I indeed deserve ever eye roll or exasperated huff I get from my five teens.

I’d have to tell him what an amazing dad he truly was … how I loved having him for my father. He wasn’t perfect, but he had so very many things right. He loved God, my mother and his children in the right order. He lived his faith at home and work, not just at church on Sunday mornings.

My dad was so funny. I liked to send him puns and tell him silly jokes, just because I wanted to hear his laugh. He really did have a great laugh. If I had an hour to sit and talk with him, I’d want to tell him at least one joke just so I could hear him laugh again.

I could go on and on. Actually, for several days, I have had these running conversations with Dad going on in the back of my brain. (I’m sure admitting that makes me seem as if I have some sort of mental issue. Hopefully though, I don’t … at least not yet.)

Eventually, I came to the end of my chatter. To my surprise, I found I didn’t have anything left to say. But I didn’t want the conversation (as one-sided as it was) to come to an end. And there, in the quiet, my brain asked a question I wasn’t expecting:

So, Dad … what about you? Tell me everything from the past nine months.

That’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks. My dad’s been face-to-face with Jesus, worshipping at the feet of the King of Kings. What would he have to tell me???  Oh, I can only imagine!

What would he say? I’ve thought about that a little bit as well. I don’t know, but maybe he would tell me not to worry or to be afraid. After all, he knows I have a tendency to feel both worried and afraid quite a bit. Anxiety is definitely my typical mode of operation.

Perhaps he would remind me to be fully surrendered to the love and care of God, who watches over sparrows and clothes the lilies of the field. God has got whatever is going on in my life. All I need to do is simply trust that His plans for me are good.

And I know that my dad would tell me that I should hang onto my faith because in the end it’s all going to be worth it. Forever with God is amazing.

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It’s my first Father’s Day without my Dad. I’m missing him terribly … but I’m grateful that I am not fatherless. Not only was I given the blessing of being raised by an amazing earthly father, I am also a part of God’s family. I have a Heavenly Father who watches over me, guides me and is ever leading me closer to Him.

And someday, I’ll celebrate with my Daddy around the throne of the Heavenly Father. What a Father’s Day that will be!

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.   ~ 1 John 3:1

European Vacation: A Guest Post by Nathan

Nathan, age 13
Nathan, age 13

Meet Nathan, my thirteen year old son. He’s my very own California Beach Boy, as he was born while his father was stationed at the Presidio of Monterey, California. Of course, the blond hair, big blue eyes and a stunning double dimple on his right cheek on add to the image.

Nathan has a lot of bragging rights, but his favorite thing to remind me of these days is that he is finally taller than me. Of course, this is not my favorite thing about my son, as there are far more things to love than just his height.

Nathan is extremely generous. Once he used all of his birthday money to buy chickens and soccer balls as gifts through World Vision for children living in poverty in third world countries.  Nathan is a deep thinker. He loves to engage in conversation and debate discuss intellectual topics, especially those on Biblical issues.

Today I am proud to share Nathan’s non-fiction essay on his extended trip to Europe last summer. His is the third guest post from one of my children, but there are still two more yet to go as all of my children will have the chance to guest post for me in April.

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European Vacation

As your average American teen, there are many things I just assume I’ll never have the opportunity to do. I’m not rich enough or famous enough to have the world at my fingertips. Expensive vacations and trips to exotic places were just dreams for my future, not my current reality.

However, last summer, when my dad was stationed in Germany with his Army unit, I had the chance of a lifetime to go and spend six weeks with him. It was my Great European Vacation, and I came home from that trip with much more than a few great photos.

We arrived at my dad’s house late at night, weary from traveling for well-over 24 hours. I had been looking forward to seeing Germany for months, but now all I could think about was sleep. It wasn’t until I woke up the next morning that I really got to see my surroundings, both the house and the town.

My father’s house was interesting, having two main floors and an attic-type room that we used mostly for reading. My room had a great view of a restaurant called The Holstein Hut, which was situated at the top of a very high hill on the outskirts of the village. This restaurant was interesting for many reasons. First, it was only opened business randomly. You never knew for sure if it would be opened or not. The best way to tell was to look for the flag that was raised to indicate that The Holstein Hut was serving food on that particular day. Secondly, you could only get there by hiking, which is why I guess they mostly opened if the weather were suitable for hikers. But the best part about the The Holstein Hut was that it had a particularly great view of the area. Some of my favorite memories of my time in Germany is going out for an afternoon hike to get a sausage at The Holstein Hut and take in some of the beautiful German scenery.

My dad had opted to live in a German village instead of on the American base where he worked. The name of this village was Munchweiler an der Alsenz, which means “Munchweiler by the river Alsenz.” You needed the entire name because there were three villages with the name Munchweiler in the area. I suppose I thought that the river Alsenz would be something really special and worth seeing. However, we passed by the Alsenz on one of our many walks around the village, and I was surprised to see it was just this tiny stream! Hardly anything worth naming a village after, if you asked my opinion.

Munchweiler an der Alsenz was relatively small and compact, as were all the German villages in the area. Everything was packed close together, and yet it didn’t feel crowded at all. “Did you have a nice-sized backyard?” my mother once asked me. I regretted to tell her that we didn’t. No one had backyards. Yet the area surrounding the village was sort of like a big common backyard that everyone enjoyed. And what a common backyard it was! The entire area was covered in hills, with paths and small roads leading in all directions. There were plenty of trees dotting the most beautiful fields I have ever seen.

Everyone walked. No matter where you were going, you walked. You could walk just a couple of miles and pass through three or four villages on your journey. I loved walking because you could really soak in all the beauty. But if you were going far, then you could travel by car on the Audubon (where there really is no speed limit) or by train (which were used in a way that is similar to how Americans might use buses).

Hiking in the Black Forest where it was light enough for a photo.
Hiking in the Black Forest where it was light enough for a photo.

Once we took a weekend trip to the Black Forest in southern Germany. Right away I could see where it got its name. The trees were so thick that everything looked black, even in the middle of the day. The main thing to do in the Black Forest was hike. We hiked up to the peak and then back down, all the way in semi-darkness.

Kegel Bowling ... entertaining Germans since the Middle Ages.
Kegel Bowling … entertaining Germans since the Middle Ages.

 

However, it was also during this visit that I first learned about Kegel Bowling. The small bed-and-breakfast where we stayed had a bowling alley in the basement. It was just one lane with nine pins that were arranged in a diamond. This different style of bowling was invented in the 1300’s. Perhaps the strangest part was that there was no pin-setter in this bowling alley. Rather all the pins were attached to strings that were pulled up and lowered again to reset the pins once they had all been knocked down.

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with my siblings in front of the Eiffel Tower

Another weekend, my father took us to Paris, France. It was a quick trip, so we rushed to get in all the highlights. We went to the Louvre Art Museum, where I saw the Mona Lisa up close and personal. It was so much smaller than I imagined it would be. I also saw the Venus de Milo, which is a famous statue with no arms, and a sculpture of The Great Sphinx. We walked all over Paris. I stood underneath the Eiffel Tower, but I couldn’t ride to the top because the elevator was broken. We climbed every last exhausting stair to get to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. But my favorite part of Paris was all the cafés. Everywhere you looked there was another street-side restaurant, with delicious sandwiches made on baguettes, pasta dishes covered in rich sauces, and crème’ brulee, an amazing dessert that I had often heard of but never tried. I even ate French fries in France, which to me were exactly like American French fries only they were bigger. I suppose the saying that “everything is bigger in America” isn’t always true.

Eating ... my favorite thing about traveling to Europe
Eating … my favorite thing about traveling to Europe

Actually, my favorite part of the entire trip was the food. I can’t even begin to describe how much I enjoyed trying all the new cuisines. Leberknodle, bratwurst brochen, leberkase, jagerschnitzel. I loved it all. My taste buds were in heaven!

Leberknodle and bratwurst brochen would be instant hits here in Cajun country. The leberknodle is like a giant boudin meatball, only not quite as spicy. Bratwurst brochen is essentially a sausage poboy. Both are seriously tasty.

Leberkase literally means “meat cheese.” Basically, it is meat (sort of like bologna) that is packed tightly in a pan, just like a meatloaf. There is actually no cheese in this dish, but many people say it has the texture of cheese. That’s how it got the name. Honestly, I don’t care what the Germans call it. I just call it delicious!

Of all the foods I tried, jagerschnitzel was probably my favorite dish. Schnitzel is simply a pounded fried pork steak, which by itself would be totally awesome. Yet, typically when you order schnitzel at a restaurant, it comes with either cheese (kase) or mushrooms (jager, which is pronounced “yay’-gur”). So jagerschnitzel is a fried pork steak covered with a creamy mushroom sauce. Yummy stuff!

Six weeks is a long time to spend in another country. When I returned to my home in Lafayette, my mother hugged me tight and said it looked as if I had grown at least a foot while I had been gone! Of course, I hadn’t, but I had grown up in many ways I never imagined I would. As a result of my extended travels, I am now aware of how culture and history binds people of all nations together, how life in other countries is extremely similar and yet vastly different from life in the U.S., and that if all I ever do is play video games and eat fast food, then I am going to miss out on so much this world has to offer!

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This post is part of the 2015 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. If you are visiting due to that, thanks so much for popping in to read today’s post. I hope you will leave me a comment so that I can return the visit to your blog. I love to connect with other bloggers and readers. If you are a regular reader, I hope you’ll stick with me during April when I blog about the stories of my faith.

Restoration

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I had never really seen the likes of it … dog feces smeared over the wood floors, evidence of roaches littering the bottoms of every kitchen cabinet and drawer, holes in the walls, mold in the bathroom, thick layers of dirt and grime and dust coated everything with a surface.

My husband and children had just spent the weekend helping me clean up my North Louisiana rent home. We carted out piles upon piles of trash, raked up two years worth of leaves, swept and mopped and scoured every surface we could easily reach. And still at the end of those two days of hard work, there was still so very much more to do.

The bathroom leak had been fixed, but now came the work of ripping out all of the molded sheetrock and putting up new. There were several broken ceiling fans and light fixtures which needed to be replaced. One room had several large holes in the walls, which meant I needed to get new paneling. Throughout the remainder of the house, the walls and trim desperately need new paint. And then there was the question of the roof.  Did it leak as my former tenant indicated, even though I couldn’t see physical evidence of the leaks? If so, could it be patched, or was I looking at the expense of a brand-new roof?

As I stood and looked around my, I saw the fragmented beauty of what once was. But the charming old home that I had bought for myself just five years earlier was no long charming or beautiful.  My brother, who had come by to help for a couple of hours, shook his head in disbelief and said, “Well, Paige … this definitely isn’t the home you left 4 years ago, is it?”  Sadly, all I could do was nod my head in agreement.

Hours later, I stood on the front lawn with Jon next to me, holding my hand. I sighed, but he leaned in and said,  “Maybe, with a little hard work, together we can get this old home back to its former glory. I know it will be time and money … but I think if we just take it one step at a time, we will be able to take care of each thing that needs to be done.”

I smiled at him, for the first time feeling that all wasn’t lost. Even through the discouragement, I knew deep down that the old home could become like new again.

This house could be restored.

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It’s been almost a month since they left us. I still miss their sweet little smiles, their precious hugs and kisses, the way their chubby hands felt in mine. I miss rocking and singing and reading books.

I knew from the beginning that being a foster parent would require me to love children as my own and then be willing to give them back to their parents. After all, that is (at least initially)  the ultimate goal for every foster child.

But knowing isn’t quite the same thing as experiencing.

I didn’t know how it would feel to buckle their car seats for the last time knowing this was our goodbye. How could I have prepared myself for the tears  that streamed down my cheeks as I washed the last of the baby bottles, sobbing because that sweet little girl who wouldn’t be snuggling with me at night any more? For two weeks after they left, I kept coming across stray baby socks, chunky legos and matchbox cars, evidence that two small people who used to live with us don’t live here anymore. Every time it made me cry.

It’s been hard on my heart, and yet if I am fully truthful then I must also say that there is lots of  joy and hope in my heart for those two precious children. They are back with their mama. Isn’t that where every child wants to be? Held in their mother’s arms? Loved by the parent who brought them into this world?

God called me and my family out, asked us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We learned to love children who weren’t ours as if they were our very own, and then in the end we had to give them back with nothing left but the memories. But oh, what a privilege to be witness what came as a result!

A family has been restored.

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Me and my dad, Easter 1973

Not quite six months ago, my father died. Unexpectedly. On my birthday. I’ve not nearly gotten over it yet. Most days, I wonder if I ever will.

It’s been a surreal sort of experience, learning to go throughout my days without talking to my dad. I used to pick up the phone without thinking. I wanted to talk to him, tell him something funny one of the kids said or ask for some advice. I would be halfway through dialing before I would remember that he no longer was around to answer phone calls.

Other times the phone would ring, and I would answer expecting to hear his voice on the other end of the line. Of course, it always turned out to be someone else and I would spend about half of that conversation trying not to cry because I wasn’t talking with my father.

Once I was at my home church and thought I saw my father walking at the other end of the hallway, his back to me. I raced ahead without thinking, only to feel surprised when it turned out to be my uncle. While I was glad to give him a hug, I wished it had been my dad instead.

I celebrate my first birthday while Papaw celebrates his 50th ... the first of many birthdays we have celebrated together.
I celebrate my first birthday while Papaw celebrates his 50th … the first of many birthdays we  celebrated together.

Just last week, my grandfather passed away. Now not only is my father gone, but my father’s father as well. Though it wasn’t nearly the shock of my father’s passing as my grandfather was ninety-one and had been ill for most of the last six weeks of his life, his death has left a what feels like a large raw, ragged hole in my heart.

Two patriarchs gone in less than six months. The two deaths feel so entangled, I am not sure I even know how to process through the grief.

At my grandfather’s funeral, it felt all too familiar. Weren’t we just here, reading the cards attached to the flower arrangements, accepting casseroles and cakes from well-meaning church members, and receiving condolences from a long line of friends at the church?  Now we must do this again?

Tears ran down my cheeks as I watched the photo slide show during the visitation for my grandfather, yet I wasn’t sure who the tears were for … Daddy or Papaw.

Maybe the tears were mostly for me.

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And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. ~1 Peter 5:10

Until the last six months, I never thought about Heaven much at all.

If I am truthful, I must admit that actually going to Heaven is something I have never really anticipated.  I’ve always expected that some day in the future I will go there and see it for myself, mainly because it is what God promises will happen when I die as a result of putting my faith in Him. But I haven’t really ever spent time looking forward to that day.

Furthermore, lately I’ve realized that for most of my life my thoughts about Heaven have frequently conflicted with Biblical teachings.

I’ve always imagined Heaven as this great white expanse, trimmed in a rich gold. Pristine, quiet, and ethereal. Everyone there wears a white robe and a completely serene expression upon their face. As Heaven knows no anger, no tears, no worry, no sickness, it is a place of complete peace. But I also came to realize that I also never imagined heaven being a place of joy or laughter or even of love. Just eternal rest from this current earthly life.

No wonder I wasn’t eager to think about it or to anticipate going there myself! If dying means never laughing or feeling excitement again, then why would I care about Heaven?

Of course, since Dad’s death, I’ve thought quite a bit more about Heaven. I’ve never doubted that my father (and now grandfather) is now experiencing Heaven, but I have wondered if the things I miss most about them are still a part of them. Oh, I hope so! I miss their laughter, story-telling, and curious minds. How I would love, just one more time, to hear my father and grandfather engaged in one of their friendly Biblical debates, as they happily studied their Sunday school lesson together. I can’t tell you how many Sunday lunches I spent listening to them discuss exactly who Melchizedek was and the mysteries surrounding his priesthood. Are these parts of them buried in the grave?

And what of other things about this earthly life that I enjoy now. I know this planet is a flawed place to live, so far from perfection, but there is still so much to love about the world God created. Beautiful sunsets. Stars against a dark night sky.  Cool breezes. The kiss of warm sunshine against my skin on a spring day. Brilliant fall leaves. Laughing with a friend. Hugs from my family. Chocolate. So many things I cherish about life … When this life is over, must these end as well?

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But, as it is written,“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”  ~1 Corinthians 2:9

Not long ago, Jon had a dream about the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. In his dream, he was this large banquet hall where huge tables, covered in white clothes, were filled with large platters of delicious food. The smell was intoxicating. As Jon sat down to eat, he noticed a group of dancers enter the hall, performing an intricate dance to this amazing music. Jon said he started to dance along.  Next there were singers. Again, Jon knew the words to all the songs and enjoyed clapping and dancing and singing.  Then later on, he noticed several groups of people, each one seemed to be captivated by an engaging story-teller. Jon said it was the most wonderful party he had ever attended, and that when he woke up he was actually sad that it had to end.

Heaven? A party that never ends? 

Now that sounds like something to get excited about!

I’ve been reading Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven, which is perhaps the most definitive book about the subject (after the Bible, of course). In his book, Alcorn writes,

“Satan need not convince us that Heaven doesn’t exist. He need only convince us that Heaven is a boring, unearthly existence.”

This particular quote resonated deeply with me, obviously because it was so true of my own beliefs regarding Heaven. My imaginings of Heaven aren’t accurate at all, for it is far from being a place of mundane existence.

Earth is just a prelude to heaven. So magnificent sunsets, majestic mountains, delicious meals in the company of friends, the joy of laughter … all of these things are just a delightful preview of what is to come.

God declared His original creation as “good.” His plan all along has been to redeem and restore it.

Religion professor Albert Wolters writes, “God hangs on to his fallen original creation and salvages it. He refuses to abandon the work of His hands—in fact, He sacrifices His own Son to save His original project. Humankind, which has botched its original mandate and the whole creation along with it, is given another chance in Christ; we are reinstated as God’s managers on earth. The original good creation is to be restored.”

Restoration.

It’s not just for old houses or dysfunctional families or broken relationships.

It’s for all of Creation. For me. For you.

All it takes is trusting Jesus Christ to redeem us from our sinful selves. And when we do, we can anticipate the day we die, knowing we will be restored to all we were originally created to be, perfect in every way. We will not be sent to some place of eternal rest, but rather will be reinstated on a new earth, as real and as physical as the first, but without all the sin and shame and sorrow and sickness.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away …  And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”   ~from Revelation 21

Laughing and Crying … and Missing My Dad

This morning, I slept in later than usual.

I don’t really know why. I didn’t go to bed especially late.

Perhaps it was because Jon wasn’t home, so the alarm that wakes him up for work didn’t alert me that it was the start of a new day.

Or it could have been because I felt so warm in my bed on this rather chilly morning. I hate to say it but Jon is a blanket hog. He likes to roll up in the covers, leaving me on a sliver of blanket to keep me warm. In spite of this, I love the man. I’d rather have him home stealing my blankets than anywhere else.  And yet, I can’t help but admit that being toasty encouraged me to stay put in my bed this morning.

Maybe it was the fact that I don’t have to get up to take care of babies anymore. The foster babies always woke up around 6:30 am. They did not believe in sleeping in late, and always demanded in that baby sort of way that I get up and feed them breakfast straight away. Now that they are no longer living with us, the five tweens and teens certainly don’t rush to get out of bed unless, of course, I roust them out.

So, I slept in.

In fact, I stayed in bed so long that eventually I couldn’t sleep anymore. I was completely awake and yet I didn’t really feel like getting out of bed either. It felt so good to be snuggled under all the covers, toasty and warm. The dog was nestled against me, perfectly content to continue to sleep next to my side. I hated the thought of disturbing him.

And so I picked up my cell phone. I played a little Trivia Crack, read a couple of emails, but mostly I cruised along my Facebook newsfeed.

It wasn’t long before I came across a video of snippets from the Carol Burnett Show.  Tim Conway, Carol Burnett, Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman.  I couldn’t help but press the play button. Soon I had tears streaming down my cheeks from laughing so hard.

And, by the time the video had ended, I had tears of grief mingled in as well. Tears because I missed my dad and in that moment all I wanted was to share this video with him and hear his wonderful laugh.

Grief is an odd thing to experience. As the months go by, the ache in my heart seems to grow stronger. Some days I just miss the sound of his voice on the other end of the phone. Other days I miss knowing he is in Harrisonburg and that if I needed him, he would come to me within a couple of hours.

Today, I am missing Dad’s laugh. As I watched the antics of Tim and Harvey, Carol and Vicki, it was as if I could nearly hear him laughing along with me, tears streaming down his cheeks too.

So, in honor of my dad, here’s a laugh for you today.

 

A joyful heart is good medicine.  ~Proverbs 17:22

Better than February

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I woke up this morning feeling discouraged. It all started when I happened to remember that today is January 27th.  Much to my dismay, there are still four more days to go in this month. As I shuffled to the kitchen to start my morning coffee, there was but one thought in my weary brain:

Will January ever end? 

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Honestly, I don’t know why this particular month has seemed to drag by so very slowly. But it has, with one long day following another.

The two toddlers have been snotty-nosed, cranky and into everything that’s not tied down.  And if I’m not dealing with toddler tantrums, then it’s teenager angst. I can’t tell you which one is worse. Honestly, they are both bad.

January just also happens to be the month for our recertification as foster parents. It’s only slightly less harrowing than getting certified the first go around.  Together, Jon and I had to complete 15 hours of online training. Excuse me, but I’m so busy chasing our duel tornadoes (aka the foster babies) that I hardly have time to do anything else. Finding 15 hours to complete training is like asking me to find a needle in a haystack. Fortunately, I somehow managed to find them, so that particular stressor is finally behind me.

I haven’t been to church in 3 long weeks. Sickish toddlers kept me away two Sundays. The other Sunday I was out thanks to a two year old boy’s first science experiment involving a bottle of Zantac (that he somehow managed to open in spite of the child safety cap) and some kitchen cleaner. Concerned that he may have ingested some of the concoction, I stayed home and kept in close contact with a kind lady from the Poison Control Center.  Thankfully, no symptoms other than hyperactivity were noticed and calamity was once again avoided.

Then there is my house, the one which is once again for rent or for sale.  I could probably write an entire  blog post about that, but I won’t. It’s suffice to say that my current situation is nothing short of baffling. Changing renters should be simple enough. One renter moves out. Another one moves in. And yet this time around it has been anything but simple. I have never before had anyone threaten me to never contact them again, much less a person who was living on my property. <SIGH> Well, I have now. It happened this January.  And I didn’t even realize there was a problem between me and my former renter.

All month long it has been one thing after another. To me, it seems that …

January has become my prison. 

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Last Friday, my sister had her baby. Sweet little Mallory Piper was born via C-section at about 8 am on January 23rd, weighing in at 7 lbs 15 oz.  She is perfectly healthy with the most adorable chubby cheeks.  And I can hardly wait until I get to meet her in person.

In a way, it seems unreal that Mallory is already here.

Perhaps you can remember when we were picking names and debating on genders right here on my blog late last summer? It really wasn’t all that long ago, and yet it almost feels like a lifetime has happened between then and now.

One thing about grief is you never know what will blindside you. For example, I never anticipated my niece’s birth to bring up an entire host of intense emotions. But then again, I never anticipated my father wouldn’t be around to see the birth of this granddaughter.

I remember his delight as he announced to me what my sister had already told me, that he would be getting a new grandchild. While I cannot remember if he predicted this baby would be a boy or a girl, I do know he was tickled pink when Brooke announced she was expecting another daughter. And I certainly recall how he adamantly insisted that no grandchild of his would ever be named Hazel because a long time ago he had a mean teacher name Hazel and he had never liked the name since.

Now Mallory is with us, but my dad isn’t … and that leaves me with a strange lump in my throat that mingles with the joy and excitement of being an aunt again. As much as I already adore and love that sweet baby girl, her arrival makes me miss my father’s presence a little more. I definitely wasn’t prepared to experience these feelings along with my niece’s birth.

But truthfully, I wasn’t prepared at all for January 2015.

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Ask my children and they will tell you that I am often reminding them not to wish their lives away.

Enjoy being thirteen,” I tell my middle girl. “I know there are so many things you want to do … drive a car, go on a date,  You will be Sweet Sixteen you know it. But thirteen will never come around again.”  (Of course, I don’t tell her that very few are the number of adults who would actually voluntarily live through being 13 again.  She’ll discover that soon enough on her own.)

I know Geometry is a pain in the rear, but instead of wishing you could go back to elementary school, focus on the good things about being in the 10th grade.”  (Of course, the high school sophomore doesn’t want to heed that advice. It’s much easier to moan and complain.)

But lately, I haven’t been able to take my own advice either.

I’m stuck in the middle of January, and I can’t get out.

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Paige, Lately God has put you on my heart, and I’ve been praying for you.  What I’d really like to do is something that would help and encourage you. Can I take the two little ones one day this week? My girls and I would enjoy spending time with them and giving you a bit of a break.

I thought I was surely hearing things.

It was Sunday afternoon. Just that morning, while the rest of my family worshipped at church, I sat at home with two small children and prayed, “God, I just need a break. I’m weary and worn and I can’t go on much longer.

Now my friend had called me out of the blue, with an offer so sweet it felt as welcome as drops of water on parched, dry lips.

All month long I’ve felt alone in the trenches, forgotten in the battle, desperate for some piece of encouragement. Day after day I get up, put on a brave face and continue to soldier forward into the fray that has become my daily life … aching for February, and hoping that with it will come a blessed relief to my soul.

But here was my relief.  And it came while it was still January.

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The God of the Bible has many names, and one of my favorites has always been El Roi, which is translated as “God Who Sees.”

I might have felt alone, but God always saw me. He didn’t forget about me, and my little life currently filled with so much stress.

And while I desperately desired nothing more than a new month on the calendar as a hope of getting some peace restored, God sent someone to minister to me right in the middle of the longest, driest month of my life.

When my January wouldn’t end, God gave me something better than February.

He gave me a friend.

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Yes, it’s still January and all my troubles are still here. But I have been reminded that I am not alone … and today, my friend ministered to my heart, bringing to me a taste of God’s peace and love right in the middle of winter in my soul.

I am thankful for friends who do such nice things in the middle of January. I am grateful to be loved by a God who sees me and loves me and cares about my heart.

And both of these things are better than anything February might bring.

Two are better than one … For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.  ~ Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10

Thank you, Lauren … you’ll never know how very much today was needed. I’m grateful for a friend like you.

The Christmas Parade

On the evening of December 20, 1968 my parents were married in a Christmas service.

My parents at their wedding reception on December 20, 1968.
My parents at their wedding reception on December 20, 1968.

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Forty-six years later, on the evening of another December 20th, my family represented my father as Grand Marshal in the Christmas Parade. What an honor that the town where my dad grew up and lived out his adult years chose to remember him and his influence in this way.

The local paper had a special write-up about it. This is what the article said:

The year the Terry family will ride as Grand Marshal of the parade as representatives of our beloved Malcolm Terry (1947-2014). Malcolm was a valued member of our village and a friend to all who knew him. He worked willingly with this community, serving as a teacher, principal and deacon in his church. It was his love of community and willingness to serve that pushed him to help organize and serve as president of the newly founded Village of Harrisonburg Service League. Malcolm also served his country in Viet Nam. He was a beloved husband, father and doting grandfather. We are honored to welcome his family as they ride as Grand Marshal in his memory. 

When my mother first called to tell me about us riding in the parade as Grand Marshal, I felt honored … but worried as to how we would ever manage to pull this off. It’s not as if my brother, sister or I still live in our hometown of Harrisonburg. And while this isn’t the Rose Bowl Parade, I still wanted to be pleased with whatever float we managed to make.

Which is how I found myself outside on a cold, rainy December day decorating a trailer, along with my siblings and their spouses. We took our inspiration from a family tradition.  There are 70 stockings hanging on the wall at my grandfather’s house this year … each one with the name of a child, daughter or son-in-law, grandchild or great-grandchild. Next year we will be adding at least two more stockings, as my sister and a cousin are expecting little girls in 2015. (Hard to believe that our family’s 91-year-old patriarch was an only child! The Lord certainly blessed, and enlarged, his home!)

The giant wall of stockings at the Terry house.
A wall of stockings!

The above photo shows a part of the giant wall of stockings at the Terry house. In fact, the line of stockings goes the entire length of one wall, turns the corner and fills almost a complete second wall! Seventy stockings takes up a lot of room! I’m sure my grandfather is grateful that no one expects him to fill each one with goodies.

As a tribute to this long-standing Terry family tradition, we lined our float with stockings as well. We also put on lots of colored lights and gold garland.

The back end of the trailer (and all around the sides) lined with stockings as a tribute to our family tradition.
The back end of the trailer (and all around the sides) lined with stockings as a tribute to our family tradition.

In the photo below, you can see more of the stockings, lining the sides of the float. You can also see my brother Reid bossing us all around. He made sure we all knew exactly where to sit and how much candy to throw. (OK … just kidding about that. Reid’s not too bossy, but he did tell our niece Sage that she could only throw two pieces of candy at a time. Later on you’ll find out she took that advice to the extreme.)

Another view of the float
Another view of the float

Speaking of candy, we put our kids on the back of that float and gave them bags upon bags of candy to throw at the waiting crowd. I wish I knew exactly how many pounds of candy we gave them, but it was a lot! To put it another way, my mother filled the back end of her car with the candy to take to the parade line-up and not a single other person could ride with her.

Once the parade got started, those kids threw candy! Some threw it by the large handfuls, requiring a stern reminder not to pelt the onlookers. Others threw it a piece at a time. Some, like my five year old niece Sage, decided to not throw very much candy at all. That smart girl was banking on the hope that whatever amount of candy she had left at the end of the parade would be hers to keep!

It was a little chilly that evening. My sister-in-law Heather saved the day (or rather our fingers) by giving us all tiny hand warmers to tuck away inside our gloves. My mother did her part as well, pulling out all of her quilts and blankets so that all of those sitting on the float we were bundled up and toasty.

Reid and Heather getting the blankets sorted out so that everyone was warm.
Reid and Heather getting the blankets sorted out so that everyone was warm.
Julia was the first one on the float ... maybe because she was cold.
Julia was the first one on the float … maybe because she was cold.

Not everyone got to sit on the back of the float. The three big boys (my sons Joel and Nathan, and my nephew Micah) took over the back end of the truck.

Three handsome young men
Three handsome young men

My mother and my grandfather sat in the cab of the truck, along with my sister Brooke (who is 8 months pregnant) and her husband Chris (who volunteered to drive us).

Mom and Papaw seated inside the warm truck.
Mom and Papaw seated inside the warm truck.

Not only was the experience a lot of fun, it helped us all smile on what could have been a very difficult day. The town we loved showed their affection for us as a group, as well as their love for my dad. It was certainly a comfort to be remembered in such a meaningful way.

Papaw with the plaque given to us as a memento of the event.
Papaw with the plaque given to us as a memento of the event.

My father was always proud to call Harrisonburg, Louisiana home.  He genuinely loved the people and I don’t think ever desired to live anywhere else on earth.

And even though I love that tiny town as well, my love in my heart for the people there grew significantly as I rode through the streets in the Christmas Parade … and I’m proud to say that I’m from Harrisonburg too.

More than that, I’m proud to say that I am Malcolm Terry’s daughter.

Jon and I enjoying the experience.
Jon and I enjoying the experience.

Heading Home for the Holidays

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I’ll be home for Christmas … you can count on me.

Tonight, once Jon gets off work and we’ve eaten a quick supper, I’ll be heading home for Christmas. And I have to admit that it doesn’t feel quite right now that Dad won’t be there with us.

I had already purchased a gift for my dad prior to his death. I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to give it to him for his November birthday or wrap it up for Christmas. Instead, I used it in our church’s gift exchange last weekend.

Actually, I had completely forgotten about the gift, stashed away in the back of my closet, until I went in to look through my collection of already purchased presents after Thanksgiving. It wasn’t an extremely personal or sentimental sort of a gift, just an outside LED light, the kind that looks like a lantern and has a hook for hanging.  This was also came with a bug zapper (which is needed practically year-round in Louisiana). It’s the very sort of thing my dad would have loved. He was forever giving flashlights to people. In fact, my boys have already bemoaned the fact that they won’t be receiving their annual flashlight from Poppa this year for Christmas.

Yes, my father loved flashlights. The man had a vast collection of emergency lighting, everything from dollar store flashlights to kerosene lamps to expensive LED lighting. Oddly enough, most of his great stash of emergency lighting never worked.

In light of my last post (which you can read here), this dichotomy cracks me up. My little foster son and his love for lights sort of reminds me in a weird way of my dad. I think he would have gotten a lot of pleasure out of showing off his flashlight collection to Lil’ Man.  Quite often I feel sad that he never got to meet and know my two foster babies. As much as my dad loved children, he would have adored these two little ones.

home

Going home … back to the ‘Burg and the house on the hill.

This grief I’m experiencing is the strangest thing to my 42 year old mind. My dad died and I find that I just want to be with my Mama, as if I am some child who has woken in the middle of the night needing to be reassured of her presence in the dark. Some days, most days, if I could choose where to go and what to do, I would want to go home just to be there with my mother. And yet, nothing makes me sadder than going home.

Sadder because there, in the places my dad lived out his life,  I miss him more than ever. His figure seems to be waiting right around the corner of every door. His shadow sitting in every chair. His laughter echoing through the rooms. His cup of coffee just waiting to be poured.

Sadder because my mother, due in part to her own grief and perhaps also because of her reserved and introverted personality, is not truly able to be my comforter. It was not ever really her role in my life even while my dad lived, and so it cannot suddenly become that way in his death … no matter how much I might want it or wish for it.  To have other expectations is unfair to her and only serves to increase my own disappointment and grief.

Going home … will it ever feel the same again?

Deep inside my heart is a longing to go home.

I can go back to the town where I grew up, see the familiar faces and drive the roads I know like that back of my own hand. I can return to the house where my parents lived. The furniture inside is still the same. The meals my mother puts on the table are the old favorites we’ve always eaten. Technically, I am home.

Yet, its not quite right. There’s a hole, larger than I’ve ever known before, and because my dad’s not there sitting next to my mom beaming his wonderful smile it doesn’t feel exactly like the same home I’ve always known and loved.

This is the first Christmas without my dad. I’m told that future ones will be easier, that this grief will eventually begin to subside. “You’ll never stop missing your dad,” friends have said. “But the pain will not hurt quit so much.”

I’m sure they are right. One day I won’t feel the deep ache in my heart and the lump in my throat will go away. But I’m not there yet …

Yet, you know … my dad is there. He is in that perfect place of peace and rest, in the arms of the Heavenly Father. No pain. No sorrow. No fear. No worries. Just worshipping the Savior and basking in the glow of the One who is Light … a light that never runs out of batteries or needs recharging or has a burned out bulb.

not-my-home

I can’t go home  … for this world is not my home. 

My mother has said it to me many times when I would complain about my life’s circumstances:

Paige, don’t expect life to be perfect. If it was, what reason would you have to long for heaven? Remember, this world is not your home.

Her words were truer than true, almost as if the woman read her Bible on a regular basis.  (She does! She is a wise one, that mother of mine.)

In fact, she is in good company, for the writer of Hebrews (who many say was the Apostle Paul) said very nearly the same thing:

For this world is not our home; we are looking forward to our city in heaven, which is yet to come. ~Hebrews 13:14 ESV

And Peter wrote about it as well.  (Though I do not make The Message my main study Bible, I happen to love the wording for this verse in that translation.)

Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it.  ~1 Peter 2:11 MSG

I can’t really “go home” as long as I live on this earth. But some day I will go to my eternal home. And because my dad has already gone on before, I long for it just a little more than ever before.

Yes, I’m going home for Christmas. I’ll be there with presents and hugs. I’ll join in the laughter and make memories with the ones I love most on this earth.

And though I’ll miss my dad, I’ll cherish the memories of Christmases we had together  … and look forward to the day when I get to go home and join him around the Throne of Grace.